LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Teams are starting to jump into the fray for superstar pitcher Cliff Lee, the prime catch of the free-agent pitching market, and two teams are said by a league source to be offering seven-year deals for at least $20 million a year, and perhaps more.
The Lee market has taken off in the last few days; there are thought to be at least three more teams in the bidding along with the favored Yankees and incumbent Rangers, which both badly want Lee. The Angels are known to be one of the teams, and it is believed there's at least one more American League team and one National League team in the derby, which has heated up to the point where a deal might not get done before the winter meetings end Thursday. The great interest shouldn't shock anyone since Lee is seen by many as the best postseason pitcher since Bob Gibson or even Sandy Koufax.
The teams with the seven-year offers haven't been identified, which adds intrigue to the drama. The Yankees, who love Lee and nearly acquired him in July before the Rangers swooped in to beat them to the ace left-hander, were hoping to offer a six-year bid Tuesday, but it's uncertain whether it has been made yet. The length of the Rangers' contract offer to Lee is unknown, but early indications were that they preferred to keep their bid to no more than five years.
The Yankees identified Lee as their key winter target and have been itching to add him to the fold. It's possible Lee could accept a deal for less than seven years depending on the overall dollars, though that's rare for the top players in any market. Jayson Werth may have raised the bar with his $126 million, seven-year deal with the Nationals.
At first, some believed the Nationals were deep in the bidding for Lee, but sources indicate they are focusing on other pitching options at this point. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has called the Nationals a "longshot'' for Lee, which seems to be a pretty fair indication of where they stand.
Some suggest that Lee loved his time in Texas and would favor them, all other things being equal. Rangers president Nolan Ryan expressed a bit more optimism about their chances Tuesday, but there's little reason to believe Lee would take a deal for five years or less, if indeed that's what Texas is offering, when he has at least two seven-year possibilities.
The Yankees have been adamant about their determination to hold the Lee deal to six years, according to people familiar with their thinking. But the Yankees, baseball's Goliath and most storied franchise, have a reputation for ultimately securing their prized targets, normally by simply being the highest bidder. There appeared to be some early skepticism on the part of teams about the reported seven-year offers Tuesday, and it was uncertain how or if the Yankees or Rangers might respond.
The Angels' main target is said to be superstar outfielder Carl Crawford, who is believed to be seeking at least an eight-year deal following a superb final season in Tampa Bay. The Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers are also believed to be interested in the speedy Crawford, who is sure to become the first speed player to secure a nine-figure deal. The Angels are also looking into star closer Rafael Soriano, and the first report of the Angels' jumping into the fray for Lee appeared on ESPN.com.